Friday, February 27, 2009
This is good news. It is what Gov. O'Malley and other leading death penalty opponents in the state have wanted all along. Nonetheless, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a firm supporter of capital punishment, appears confident that the measure will fail to escape filibuster by a handful of votes and will never get to the House of Delegates, which will likely vote in favor. Activists like myself, mostly working under Maryland Citizens Against State Executions (MDCASE) have sent numerous letters to our representatives calling for repeal. We've also written letters to our local newspapers, challenging the misconceptions of many death penalty supporters that it is safe because it is not used often (five executions since the end of the moratorium in the 1970s) and that the death penalty must be maintained as the only punishment to lifers who murder prison guards or fellow inmates. We will know soon the fruits of our efforts.
But even if it fails this session due to the stubbornness of the old guard in the senate, I have no doubt that Maryland's death penalty is in its final throes, and this will resonate throughout the country, following the 2007 New Jersey example. Back in 2005, when O'Malley was campaigning for the governorship, I slipped inside his entourage and asked him what he would do about the death penalty if elected. He said that while he was personally opposed to it, he would uphold the law. Thanks to the de facto moratorium imposed by faulty lethal injection procedures, the governor has not been put in the position to "uphold the law," or appease the bloodthirsty, over his own sensibilities. I think he has shifted to the point where this dichotomy is no longer relevant, but even if he hasn't, the conditions for eliminating it are almost perfect. The time is at hand. The old guard will go along or be left behind.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The Abolition Movement had a surprisingly successful press conference today for Willie Pondexter.
If you're in Houston, check out channels 11(CBS), 39 (CW), and 47 (Telemundo). Also the Houston Chronicle came. KTRH 740 AM (Clear Channel) just called and did an interview and said it would air Friday morning.
The Abolition Movement wants to thank everybody who came and spoke and those who were with us for the press conference: Deloyd Parker, Exec Director of S.H.A.P.E.; Dave Hutsell, Vets for Peace; Elizabeth Stein, Producer of Execution Watch; several members of the SHAPE Center Council of Elders; and Njeri Shakur and Bob Gartner with the Abolition Movement.
Also a big thanks to S.H.A.P.E. for setting up and allowing the use of their gazebo and to Dave, the master knot-tier for getting the banner hung.
We are here today to talk about Willie Pondexter and to urge Governor Rick Perry to see that the death sentence of Mr. Pondexter be commuted to life in prison. Mr. Pondexter is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on March 3, 2009 for the 1993 burglary and murder of Martha Lennox. He was 19 years old at the time of the crime and had no previous prison record.
A clemency petition has been filed with the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Mr. Pondexter has repeatedly expressed remorse for the 1993 crime in which he took part. During the course of more than 14 years on death row, he has been a helpful, respectful inmate with no disciplinary problems. At least one TDCJ guard has stepped forward to support clemency.
Every human being is capable of change and improvement. Mr. Pondexter has demonstrated remorse for his crime. In
prison, on death row, he has worked daily to be a good and respectful man. The Board of Paroles and the governor should
recognize this in their consideration of clemency. Otherwise, why do we say we have a clemency process?
Under Texas law, only those who represent a future danger to our society can be sentenced to death. Mr. Pondexter has
shown that he does not fit that category. The state of Texas has a responsibility to show mercy on those deserving of it. When they do, it sends a powerful message t o those in prison today that personal conduct matters.
On January 17, 2009, two Harvard Law students who were interning at Texas Defender Service and helping to investigate
Mr. Pondexter's case for clemency were pulled over and unlawfully detained by Deputy Sheriff Terry White of the
Polk County Sheriff's Office, after attempting to lawfully interview a correctional officer whom counsel for Mr.
Pondexter believed had relevant and favorable evidence for Mr. Pondexter's clemency application. With his execution date one week away, Mr. Pondexter's attorneys are filing an appeal with the Fifth Circuit of a civil rights lawsuit which demonstrates how the State is interfering with Mr. Pondexter's ability to put facts in front of those who will decide his fate.
We are outraged and alarmed at the high number of executions already carried out just in 2009—eight executions in just six
weeks! Willie Pondexter would be number nine. And another half dozen executions are already scheduled in our state.
Last year Texas carried out a full 50% of all US executions.
We call for a halt to all the scheduled executions until the legislature can decide what to do with this criminal justice crisis
- We have innocent people being exonerated every week.
- We have crime labs that do not work.
- We have DA’s that withhold exculpatory evidence at all
costs even though this is illegal.
- We have a chief judge of Texas’ highest criminal court
who is facing impeachment for closing the court when a man’s life was at stake.
- We have Harvard law students threatened with arrest for doing their job.
ALL executions must stop until we can figure out how to have a fair and just system.
February 26, 2009
Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement
State District Judge Mike Lynch scheduled the hearing last month after lawyers for Robert Springsteen IV asked him to reduce Springsteen’s bail because of recently discovered DNA evidence that defense lawyers say exonerates the men.
Lawyers for co-defendant Michael Scott said they would file a similar motion, although they have not filed one yet.
Prosecutors have rejected defense claims that the DNA evidence disconnects Scott and Springsteen from the crimes.
Prosecutor Efrain De La Fuente said that the hearing as scheduled would be premature because prosecutors only recently received reports on DNA testing conducted by defense experts that would have been a subject of the hearing.
He said lawyers in the case will meet with Lynch on March 17 to determine when the hearing can be held.
“We are waiting to see what our expert has to say on it,” he said.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Contacts: Gloria Rubac 713-503-2633
Njeri Shakur 713-237-0713
Press Conference on Willie Pondexter, Scheduled to be Executed on March 3;
Why Pondexter Deserves Clemency, Why Texas Should Halt This Execution
Friends and advocates of Willie Pondexter will hold a press conference at 11:00 AM at S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, 3815 Live Oak, on Thursday, February 26, five days before his scheduled execution, to demand that he be given a stay of execution until his civil rights lawsuit can be ruled on by the Federal Appeals Court for the 5th Circuit.
Harvard law students were detained by Polk County sheriffs last month when they tried to visit ta correction officer at his home in Livinston, the town that houses death row. They were working on Pondexter's clemency appeal but were not able to complete their work. They were threatened with arrest if they returned to Livingston.
Pondexter's advocates include Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, whose statement will be read and made available.
According to one attorney working on Pondexter's case, "If there was ever anyone in Texas that deserves clemency, it is Willie Pondexter. He is a changed person who has spent nearly half his life on death row and maintained an exemplary disciplinary record."
Monday, February 23, 2009
The San Antonio Express-News in its Sunday editorial called the the misconduct charges against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals President Judge Sharon Keller a "welcome development."
The all-Republican Court of Criminal Appeals is this state's court of last resort in criminal cases, and its reputation for rubber-stamping convictions was well-established before Richard's appeal was rejected. Putting the most important criminal judge in Texas on trial for misconduct is an opportunity to expose the court's long record of callous and reckless disregard for defendants' rights.
Keller's defense is a distinction without a difference. And it perfectly illustrates her focus on process over justice. Keller did not tell the other judges that she refused to accept the appeal nor did she refer Richard's plea to Judge Johnson. Every one of those missteps and others would be intensely examined in a trial and should result in her removal from office.
This issue has never been about Richard's guilt or innocence, but about the lack of common decency in refusing his appeal because it would arrive after 5 p.m. Keller should answer for her actions in a public trial.
The Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey explains the trial process and Sharon Keller's options. "If Keller doesn’t like what these judges decide she can appeal to the state Supreme Court — if her lawyers get their filings in on time."
Keller's actions drew an immediate outcry. Even the most passionate death penalty advocates want the judicial system to operate fairly, and Keller denied Richard reasonable access to the court.
The Hearst Austin Bureau reported that the charges against Keller mark “the first case that could result in a public trial and possible removal of a statewide judge.”
Keller has 15 days to file a response, and the case could lead to trial before a special master, Hearst reported.
While Keller's actions in the Richard case violate our sense of justice, she deserves her day in court on the charges.
Regardless of the outcome, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct deserves kudos for having the courage to act in this situation. Public confidence in the system's ability to police itself should be bolstered by the commission's action.
Based on the evidence it heard during these “informal hearings,” the court could have gone so far as to publicly reprimand Keller. Instead, at least seven members voted in December to initiate a process that could lead to Keller’s removal. Willing cautioned that the vote doesn’t signal that the commission thinks Keller should be removed. It may be that they seek more information that may result from the more adversarial process to come.
It will begin with the appointment of a “special master” by Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the state Supreme Court. The master could be from a district court or an intermediate court.
That judge will conduct in public what will look very much like a civil trial, with John McKetta III, an Austin lawyer who will serve without pay as the lead “prosecutor” for the commission, and a lawyer for Keller putting on witnesses for examination and cross-examination.
The special master will then issue a “finding of facts,” but will not decide Keller’s fate. Instead his or her findings will be returned to the commission, which will hear from both sides and possibly take new evidence in a public hearing, and then retire to decide whether to recommend Keller’s removal. That’s right: recommend.
A judge, it seems, must be judged by judges.
So Chief Justice Jefferson will pick by lot a seven-member “review tribunal” from a pool consisting of one member chosen by each of the state’s 14 intermediate courts of appeal. The first picked will be chairman.
The tribunal will hold yet another hearing and possibly take more new evidence, then decide whether to accept the commission’s recommendation or impose a tougher or more lenient sanction.
If Keller doesn’t like what these judges decide she can appeal to the state Supreme Court — if her lawyers get their filings in on time.
The pipes of the criminal justice system remain clogged with racism. Examples like Kenneth Foster (sentenced to death under the Texas Law of Parties for driving a car before he was commuted off death row), Troy Davis (scheduled to be executed in Georgia despite witnesses testifying they lied on the stand after police pressure to do so), Rodney Reed (scheduled to be executed despite fingerprint evidence and a host of testimonies that lend him a credible alibi), Mumia Abu-Jamal (on death row in Pennsylvania for reporting on racial profiling by police) , or many other cases nationwide.
Come learn about our organization and how you can mobilize alongside the families of the victimized to fight injustice.
7PM on Wed., Feb. 25 in PAR 301
CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH
JOIN A FIGHT AGAINST RACISM!
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Advocates to Hold Press Conference Tuesday, Feb 24, on Ending Death Penalty Sentences Under Texas' Law of Parties
A press conference will be held at the Texas Capitol in the House Speaker's Committee Room (2W.6) on Tuesday, February 24 at 12:30 PM by advocates for an end to the death penalty for people convicted under Texas' Law of Parties. State Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston has filed HB 304, which would prohibit prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the future under the Law of Parties.
The Law of Parties can currently be used to sentence people to death even though they did not actually kill or intend anyone to be killed. Speakers at the press conference will include representatives of Kenneth Foster, jr and Jeff Wood, both of whom were sentenced to death under the Law of Parties even though neither of them killed anyone. Foster's death sentence was commuted to life in prison on August 30, 2007 by Governor Perry. Wood remains on death row after receiving a last-minute stay of execution from a federal judge on August 21, 2008, so that his mental health could be evaluated. In both the Foster and Wood cases, the actual killers have already been executed by Texas.
Where: The Texas Capitol in the House Speaker's Committee Room, 2W.6
When: 12:30 PM on Tuesday, February 24
Speakers include Rep Harold Dutton and family members of Kenneth Foster and Jeff Wood, including Lawrence Foster and Kenneth Foster Sr.
"No one should be put to death for a murder committed by someone else. The death penalty should certainly not be used for people who do not actually kill anyone. While most people in Texas may still support the death penalty, I am quite sure that even most people who support the death penalty only want it used for the worst of the worst murderers and not for people who do not actually kill anyone. Dutton's bill would eliminate the death penalty sentencing option for people convicted under the Law of Parties, but it would still allow people who play lesser roles in a case to be convicted and sentenced to prison under the Law of Parties," said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.
For more information on the case of visit www.savejeffwood.com.
Friday, February 20, 2009
The top judge of Texas' highest criminal court was told Thursday that she'll have to publicly defend her 2007 decision to close the court at 5 p.m. rather than allow a last-minute appeal in the case of a man executed later that night.
Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, will have to justify her conduct – and possibly fight for her job – in a rare public hearing ordered by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The commission ordered an inquiry into whether her behavior "constitutes incompetence in the performance of duties of office" and "casts public discredit on the judiciary."
The hearing could result in a recommendation that the Republican be removed from the court she was first elected to in 1994.
Keller has 15 days to formally respond to the charges. The process, including the hearing and the decision, could take more than a year and a half, The Associated Press reported.
The move "is rare as can be," said Larry Fox, former chairman of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility. "A once-in-a-decade event."
Fox said the hearing offered a chance "to restore the reputation of the Texas judiciary" after Keller's decision sent shockwaves across the nation.
Keller declined to comment. Her attorney, Chip Babcock, told The Associated Press that she "absolutely and totally denies these accusations."
The "notice of formal proceedings" issued by the commission comes after more than a year of orchestrated public outrage over the handling of Michael Richard's case.
Richard, convicted in the 1986 rape and murder of a woman in Hockley, was slated for execution at 6 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2007, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a case on the constitutionality of lethal injection.
Richard's lawyers planned to file an appeal on those grounds but had computer problems. When they called the Court of Criminal Appeals to explain the delay, Keller told court officials that the court would close at 5 p.m.
Richard was executed that evening after attorneys were unable to file the appeal to the closed court. Legal experts say it is common practice for courts to accept filings after the close of business, particularly in death-penalty cases.
Scores of complaints
The allegations against Keller state that she was at home, meeting a repairman, when court officials called her with the late-filing request.
They also say she disregarded court procedures by not referring defense requests to file the appeal after hours to the Court of Criminal Appeals judge who was supposed to be handling the case that day.
After Richard was executed, a massive number of complaints were filed with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, said its executive director, Seana Willing.
Willing said a public hearing was more appropriate than the commission's typical confidential hearing.
"The result of what happened was very serious," Willing said. "We can't discount that."
Unlike a private proceeding, a public hearing is "a real adversarial process," she said. Keller now has "this opportunity for due process, to cross-examine and confront witnesses"
Willing said there are three possible outcomes. The charges could be dismissed; Keller could be censured; or a recommendation could be made to the Texas Supreme Court for her removal from office.
Brian Wice, a defense attorney and legal analyst for NBC in Houston, said removing Keller is "a very real possibility."
Wice, who clerked at the court before Keller took the bench, counts himself as Keller's friend. He called her actions "knuckleheaded" but said she is a hard worker who "cares deeply about doing her job."
"Her reputation's already been damaged," he said. "I'm glad for Sharon that she'll have the opportunity to be in a public forum where she finally gets to come out swinging."
Keller, a former assistant district attorney in Dallas, was the first woman to serve on the court. She has been controversial for several years, with a tough stance on crime earning her the nickname "Killer Keller."
Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who organized a petition drive for complaints, said the hearing is "a great step towards rehabilitating the criminal justice system and the Court of Criminal Appeals."
The handling of the Richard case was a blot on Texas justice, he said.
After the initial uproar, the court quickly changed its rules to allow for electronic filings.
Keller's actions also are under scrutiny in the state legislature. Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, has filed a bill seeking her impeachment.
Keller has served as presiding judge since 2000. Her term expires in 2012.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Last December, TMN approached Lon Burnam and asked him to file a resolution to impeach Keller. Today, the New York Times wrote an editorial supporting Burnam's resolution.
Today, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct formally charged Keller with misconduct.
State Commission on Judicial Conduct Notice of Formal Proceedings
Please be advised that on December 2-4, 2008, following three informal hearings that took place before it on June 18-20, 2008, August 13-15, 2008, and October 15-17, 2008, the Commission voted to initiate formal proceedings against the judge who was the subject of your complaint. This process involves a public trial before a Special Master appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, after which findings of fact will be presented to the Commission. You will be notified in writing of the date, time and location of this trial. Based on the Report from the Special Master, the Commission may vote to dismiss the case, issue a public censure, or recommend to the Supreme Court that the judge be removed from office.
In the event that removal is recommended, a seven-member Review Tribunal of appellate justices, also appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, will review the record of the public trial and the hearing before the Commission to determine if the judge should be removed from office. The Review Tribunal could also dismiss the case or issue a public censure against the judge. Be advised that this process is lengthy and could take anywhere from six (6) to eighteen (18) months or more to complete.
Thank you for your continued patience and cooperation as we continue with this process. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the delay in resolving the complaint, as well as for our failure to communicate with you more often and in more detail regarding the status of the investigation. Due to confidentiality rules, we were greatly restricted as to what information we could provide and were concerned that any information we provided would be leaked to the media.
We appreciate that this case is very important to you. Like all cases filed with our agency, this matter was handled carefully and thoroughly investigated. Because the factual allegations and legal issues presented proved to be more complicated than most cases presented to the Commission, it simply required more time to resolve. In addition, please keep in mind that our Commission holds hearings only six (6) times per year, and handles hundreds of cases at each of those meetings. The thirteen volunteers who serve on the Commission take their responsibilities seriously and provide each case and decision the consideration it deserves. The members did not arrive at their decision in this matter lightly or prematurely.
We would also point out that we have a small, but dedicated staff that includes five lawyers and three investigators, who handle over 1,000 cases each year. Because of the significance of this matter, the investigation and presentation of the case was handled exclusively by the agency’s Executive Director and the Chief Investigator. It should be clear from a review of the Notice of Formal Proceedings how much time and effort has gone into this case so far.
On a final note, we are honored to have the services of John J. “Mike” McKetta, III, Michelle Alcala, and their firm, Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, P.C., supporting the Commission as Special Counsel in this matter.
Let us know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this process.
State Commission on Judicial Conduct
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
February 19, 2009
New York Times
Investigating Judge Keller
Sharon Keller, a Texas appellate court judge, made headlines in 2007 when she was reported to have ordered the court clerk’s office to close promptly at 5 p.m., preventing a death-row inmate from filing an emergency appeal. The inmate was executed. A Texas legislator is now trying to impeach Judge Keller for dereliction of duty in that case. A legislative inquiry is long overdue.
On Sept. 25, 2007, lawyers for Michael Richard were at work on a motion to stay their client’s execution. Earlier that day, the United States Supreme Court announced that it would consider the constitutionality of lethal injection. The lawyers were seeking to have Mr. Richard’s execution, which was to be by lethal injection, put off until the Supreme Court issued its ruling.
According to press accounts, Mr. Richard’s lawyers called the court late that afternoon to say they were having computer problems and requested that the clerk’s office stay open 20 minutes past its usual closing time. According to these accounts, Judge Keller denied the request. Mr. Richard was put to death that evening.
Judge Keller has been quoted saying that Mr. Richard’s lawyers did not give a reason for wanting the delay, and that she simply stated that the court closes at 5 p.m.
The case prompted widespread outrage. A group of lawyers filed a complaint with Texas’s State Commission on Judicial Conduct, but more than a year later, the commission, inexcusably, still has not taken any public action. This week, State Representative Lon Burnam introduced an impeachment resolution against Judge Keller, accusing her of “gross neglect of duty” and “willful disregard for human life.”
If the facts are as reported, Judge Keller should be removed from the bench. It would show monumental callousness, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of justice, for a judge to think that a brief delay in closing a court office should take precedence over a motion that raises constitutional objections to an execution. If the facts have been misreported, the impeachment process would allow Judge Keller to set the record straight.Impeaching a judge is not a step a legislature should take lightly. It is important that judges be insulated from political pressures so they have the independence necessary to administer justice fairly. But judges cannot be allowed to use their extraordinary discretion to deny litigants the fundamentals of due process. That is especially true if the stakes are literally life or death.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
For Immediate Release
Lawmaker Seeks Impeachment of State Judge
(Austin, TX) – A Fort Worth area Rep. Lon Burnam filed a resolution to begin the impeachment process against Judge Sharron Keller, the Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The resolution accuses Judge Keller of "neglect of duty" for declining to keep her office open past 5 pm to receive the final pleadings of condemned inmate, Michael Richard, on September 25, 2007.
Mr. Richards was executed that night by lethal injection. His lawyers claim that because of his low mental acuity, his execution was "cruel and unusual" based on standards set by the United States Supreme Court.
Today's filing is the latest in a series of attempts to remove Judge Keller from the bench, including letters to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct from lawmakers, attorneys and community activist calling for her removal. To date the Commission has taken no actions.
"It's one thing for a banker to close shop at five o'clock sharp," said Rep. Lon Burnam, the principal author of the resolution. "But a public official who stands between a human being and the death chamber must be held to a higher standard."
If passed the resolution calls on the House of Representatives to form a committee to investigate the Judge for "gross neglect of duty and willing disregard for human life." If the House finds cause for impeachment, a trial would then be held in the State Senate.
The State of Texas has not impeached a state judge since the 1970's when a series of judicial scandals led to ethics reforms.
On the day of the execution, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would rule on a case claiming the use of lethal injection unconstitutional. The announcement resulted in a de facto nationwide moratorium on execution as states waited to hear the high court's ruling. Mr. Richards was the last person executed before the moratorium.
Monday, February 16, 2009
By: Burnam H.R. No. 480
R E S O L U T I O N
WHEREAS, The House of Representatives of the Texas
Legislature has exclusive power to present articles of impeachment
against a state officer under Section 1, Article XV, Texas
Constitution, and Chapter 665, Government Code; now, therefore, be
RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 81st Texas
Legislature adopt the following procedures to consider the
impeachment of Judge Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals, for gross neglect of duty and conducting
her official duties with willful disregard for human life:
SECTION 1. SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON IMPEACHMENT. The House
Special Committee on Impeachment composed of seven members of the
House of Representatives shall be appointed by the Speaker of the
House. The Speaker shall designate a committee member to serve as
chair of the committee and a committee member to serve as vice-chair
of the committee.
SECTION 2. INVESTIGATION; ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT. (a)
The committee shall conduct an investigation to consider whether to
recommend that under Section 1, Article XV, Texas Constitution, and
Chapter 665, Government Code, the House of Representatives adopt
and present to the Texas Senate articles of impeachment against
Judge Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals, for gross neglect of duty and conducting her official
duties with willful disregard for human life in connection with her
actions on the evening of September 25, 2007, including her
apparent irresponsible refusal to abide by the prior practice of
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in order to receive the appeal
of Michael Richard, which conduct may have resulted in Mr.
Richard's deprivation of life without due process of law as
guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United
States and Section 19, Article I, Texas Constitution, by means of a
potentially unlawful execution by lethal injection, and in the
embarrassment of the State of Texas in a manner that casts severe
doubt on the impartiality of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and
the entire criminal justice system of this state.
(b) The committee shall submit a report of its findings to
the Speaker of the House and the full House of Representatives as
soon as reasonably practicable, but not later than the 90th day
after the date the committee is appointed. If the committee
recommends impeachment of the judge, the report shall contain a
draft of articles of impeachment.
SECTION 3. POWERS; ADMINISTRATION. (a) The committee
shall meet at the call of the chair and may meet in executive
session if approved by a majority of the members of the committee.
(b) The committee has all the powers granted to a standing
committee under the Rules of the House of Representatives and under
Subchapter B, Chapter 301, Government Code, including the power to
issue process to procure testimony or other evidence.
(c) On the request of the committee, the House of
Representatives or the Texas Legislative Council shall provide the
staff necessary to assist the committee in carrying out its duties.
(d) The operating expenses of the committee shall be paid as
determined by the Committee on House Administration.
SECTION 4. EXPIRATION. This resolution expires and the
House Special Committee on Impeachment ceases to exist on January
Protest at Judge Sharon "Killer" Keller's office on Nov, 2007
The resolution filed Monday by Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat, accuses Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller of "neglect of duty" in the case of Michael Richard, who was executed for the rape and slaying of a Houston-area woman.
Texas has not impeached a state judge since the 1970s when a series of judicial scandals led to ethics reforms, Burnam's office said.
Burnam's resolution calls on the House of Representatives to investigate Keller for gross neglect of duty. If the House finds grounds for impeachment, it would be up the state Senate to conduct an impeachment trial.
Republicans hold majorities in the House and Senate. Burnam would not predict whether he will be successful.
"I am trying to remove her from the bench," Burnam said. "It's one thing for a banker to close shop at five o'clock sharp. But a public official who stands between a human being and the death chamber must be held to a higher standard."
Congratulations to the Montana Abolition Coalition.
Senate Bill 236 replaces Montana's death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. The bill will have a vote on third reading and final passage in the coming days. It will then be considered by the Montana House of Representatives.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Vice Chair Wayne Christian - R
Robert Miklos - D
Joseph Moody - D
Paula Pierson - D
Allen Fletcher - R
Terri Hodge - D
Carol Kent - D
Debbie Riddle - R
Allen Vaught - D
Hubert Vo - D
St. Valentine: I Wish I'd Spent Valentine's Day Eating A Prix Fixe Dinner, But I Was Too Busy Getting Beheaded
February 10, 2009 | Issue 45•07
Is it Valentine's Day already? My word! How the time does fly. I might have missed the day entirely had I not caught a glimpse of all the young couples walking hand in hand this evening, filling the tables of every fancy French restaurant in town. And what better way to celebrate this fine holiday than sharing a scrumptious, fixed price, three-course menu with your beloved? Lord knows that's what I'd be doing tonight if my head hadn't been severed from my body in the third century!
I'm sorry. I hope all this talk about my gruesome martyrdom doesn't put you off your moules du jour.
On this special day for lovers young and old, few things can top a gourmet meal served by candlelight on small, tasteful plates. It's much more intimate than cards or candy, and it certainly beats meeting a grisly end at the hands of the Church's enemies. So by all means, enjoy your duck confit and chocolate mousse while you stare into the eyes of the person you love. What a romantic way to celebrate the 1,739th anniversary of the day I was bludgeoned to within an inch of my life and then publicly executed!
Go on, have another bite. Savor it.
I bet some of you are on your very first date. Lucky you! The moon is full, and the night seems ripe for romance. Also, I notice you all still have your heads attached to your shoulders. Bravo. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of you little devils snuck out before the last course to do some midnight kissing by the lake. Just don't forget to settle your tab before you go—you wouldn't want to get caught by a police officer or a servant of Claudius II during a time when minor offenses were settled by violent beheadings!
Then how would you enjoy your after-dinner digestif?
Yes, if things had gone a bit differently, I'm sure I would have loved to spend the first Valentine's Day sampling a variety of goat cheese and wine pairings, but alas, I was a little preoccupied by the severing of my spinal cord, which caused my brain-spattered skull to go bouncing down the streets of Rome. Ooh, lobster ravioli, how grand! You simply must try the lobster ravioli, seeing as how you're still alive and not just a bloodied stump of a torso on legs.
My, my, just looking at all those delicious appetizers and delicately seasoned entrées is enough to make me wish I had never been convicted of marrying Christian couples in the early days of the Roman empire, beaten with clubs, stoned, and fed a pan seared sea bass with stuffed artichoke hearts. Oh, wait. That last part wasn't me! That's just how you've chosen to commemorate my painful, unnecessary death. Please, everyone, have another round on me.
Why not try the '97 Bordeaux? I love a good Bordeaux. That's what I would order on a day as special as Valentine's Day or, as I like to call it, "St. Valentine Gets His Ass Handed to Him Day."
I knew the people who killed me, you know. They were the corrupt guards of Emperor Claudius, and they snatched me from my home in the middle of the night. I was dragged through the streets, my legs and arms torn to ribbons by the glass and stones my neighbors hurled at me. I was propped up in the center of town and made to look the fool while large men took turns violently beating me with anything they could find as I slipped in and out of consciousness. I can still hear them laughing.
How rude of me! Blabbering on about myself when this is clearly your special day. Where's my head? Oh, here it is. In my hands. Because it was chopped off by savages who wished to punish me for practicing my faith. That's how I celebrated Valentine's Day—also known as the Feast of St. Valentine, who just so happens to be me. A man who had nothing to do with going out and making goo-goo eyes over an overpriced steak.
After all, it's a little hard for the man of the hour to eat a steak when his mouth is no longer attached to his esophagus.
And what's all this I hear about Valentine's Day getting too commercial? Oh, so just now it's becoming a little superficial for you? I wish you could have seen the second Valentine's Day in A.D. 271, the year after I died. There weren't a whole lot of chocolates or overpriced cruise packages to be found back then. Mostly just my mother crying.
Well, anyway, Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Go forth and have fun! Gorge yourselves on succulent meats, put on a Nick Drake CD to drown out the bloodthirsty howls of the hateful who clamor for your execution, and—please, I insist—engage in hour upon hour of the kind of passionate, unbridled intercourse that I never experienced because I took a vow of celibacy.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Ohio governor. Ted Strickland granted clemency to Jeff Hill this afternoon. The press release and statement by the Governor's Office is posted below.
Statement Regarding Clemency Application of Jeffrey D. Hill
Columbus , Ohio – Governor Ted Strickland today issued the following statement regarding the pending clemency application of Jeffrey D. Hill:
“Jeffrey Hill was convicted, by a jury, of the aggravated murder of Emma Hill, his mother. He is scheduled to be executed on March 3, 2009.
On February 6, 2009, the unanimously recommended that Mr. Hill be granted a commutation of his to a sentence of from 25 years to life. The Parole Board cited five basic reasons for its recommendation: the views of the victim’s family, the lack of adequate representation by counsel at Mr. Hill’s sentencing, the remorse demonstrated by Mr. Hill regarding his actions, the lack of proportionality of the sentence of death in this case when compared with similar murder cases, and the expressed views of two justices of the which reviewed this case on appeal.
In making my determination regarding Mr. Hill’s clemency application, my staff and I have reviewed the record of the proceedings and the evidence presented in Mr. Hill’s case, the judicial decisions regarding Mr. Hill’s conviction, the Application for Ohio Parole Board’s report and recommendation. filed by Mr. Hill’s attorney and arguments presented for and against the clemency request, and other materials provided by attorneys. We have also reviewed letters and petitions received in the Governor’s office regarding this matter and supplemental briefings provided by the Ohio Public Defender’s office. Finally, we reviewed the
Based on this review, I concur with the rationale and recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board and have, therefore, decided to commute Mr. Hill’s sentence to a term of from 25 years to life.”
A copy of the warrant of commutation of sentence is included below:
Warrant of of Sentence
- Jeffrey D. Hill #A261-876 was convicted of the crime of Aggravated Murder with a Death Penalty Specification and sentenced by the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to death.
- Mr. Hill is currently incarcerated in the custody of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and is scheduled to be executed on March 3, 2009.
- After the review of extensive material associated with this case, I concur with the unanimous rationale and recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board.
- Accordingly, I direct that the sentence of death of Jeffrey D. Hill be commuted to a term of from 25 years to life.
- I signed this Warrant of Commutation on February 12, 2009, in Columbus, Ohio.
Ted Strickland, Governor
Filed the 13th day of February, 2009 with the Hamilton County Common Pleas Clerk of Court by Jose A. Torres.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
This evening, HB 285 to abolish the death penalty in New Mexico and replace it with life without parole passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 40-28. Our sponsor, Representative Gail Chasey was praised by everyone who spoke (including the opposition) for her passion and perseverance for seeking repeal in New Mexico. She is a true advocate, and most of us we moved to tears more than once as we listened to her eloquently and intelligently show why New Mexico must repeal the death penalty.
Representative Chasey started by saying it is "time for New Mexico to do this," and that she would present "an emotional issue that contained rational, fiscal and ethical considerations." She then went on to describe the change in this country by reading excerpts from an editorial from Alabama, another from Arizona, and NJ Senator Lesniak's award-winning speech.
She then put forth specific reasons for abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico -- it costs more to keep the death penalty than to impose life without parole in those cases, it is not a deterrent, it is about fairness to the victims and society, and that the death penalty offered "false hope for victims." She also read from MVFR's Not in Our Name New Mexico book that all Legislators received on Repeal Day, telling of MVFR member Maurice Moya who tragically lost his daughter-in-law in 2006 and how as a former Albuquerque police officer he knew the death penalty did not work, and would not bring "closure to his family."
When speaking of innocence, she talked about the tragic injustice that NM Repeal steering committee member, Juan Melendez, endured on Florida's death row for nearly 18 years, and of the four innocent men sentenced to death in New Mexico who were freed after being just "nine days away from execution at one point."
She finished her opening by letting the Legislators know that 64% of New Mexicans support repealing the death penalty, replacing it with life without parole and restitution to victims' families, so their constituents were "with us." No abolition movement could ask for a more powerful and dedicated leader, and we thank you Representative Chasey!
And she was not alone in her wish for repeal. Other Representatives who stood up and spoke in support of repeal included Representative Antonio Lujan who said that we should "join most civil countries who have gotten rid of the death penalty, assuming we were civil," and Representative Andrew Barreras who said that he "felt very strongly that all New Mexicans could feel good about this bill."
Representative Moe Maestas said there was "no therapeutic value to the death penalty," and that instead, "it is nothing more than state sponsored revenge, not justice." Representative Brian Egolf said he believed in God and that man "can never be perfect, therefore we always run the risk that we make a mistake."
Newly elected Representative Eleanor Chavez said she was honored to be a part of the debate, and shared how her family had been on both sides of the violence created by murder. One of her cousins shot and killed her husband, and they reached out for forgiveness from his family. A few years later another cousin was murdered, and she remembered that "nobody in my family wanted the death penalty for that person."
Another newly elected Representative Sandra Jeff also said she was glad to be a part of the discussion, and spoke most passionately about her native people and the unjustness many generations of her family have endured, and wondered "did my people deserve that?" She spoke of the first Native American put on Federal Death Row in 2001, then she read Kathy Bowman's (New Mexico Coaltion to Repeal the Death Penalty member and MVFR member) statement on why she opposes the death penalty after losing family members to murder. Representative Jeff said she believes in the "sanctity of life" and that we always risk "putting someone innocent to death."
The last two Representatives who spoke for repealing the death penalty were Representative and House Majority Floor Leader Ken Martinez and Representative Roger Madalena. Representative Martinez reiterated what he said in the House Judiciary committee last week, cautioning the Legislature to "never elevate government over individuals and never give the government more rights than the people have," advice he received from his distinguished father, former House Speaker Walter Martinez. Representative Madalena spoke of being from the pueblo, and how his people had "embraced Roman Catholic beliefs and combined them with their own spirituality," and that those beliefs said the "Creator determines how much time people spend on earth, not people."
It was great debate, and we are excited to head to the Senate and start again with our committee assignments and Floor vote there. Thanks to everyone for your support and for letting your Legislators know we want repeal in New Mexico in 2009!
Everyone who came received a yellow NM repeal t-shirt and button and the halls were packed all day with our nice red logo and the word REPEAL. We heard from people who have worked in the Capitol for 20+ years who said this was the single biggest presence they had ever seen on any issue in one day. There were at least 4 times as many people there this year than had ever been there for NM Repeal's lobby day in past years.
Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) released its new booklet, "Not in our Name - New Mexico" which was distributed to every legislator and which you may see for yourself at MVFR.org.
And Witness to Innocence was out in force with Executive Director Kurt Rosenberg, communications Director and exoneree Ray Krone, and also Juan Melendez and Randy Steidl.
There was some good media coverage, but most reporters are working on a larger story that will run once the bills pass out of the House and then the Senate Judiciary. Once we get to the Senate floor, its much more real.
1. Viki – welcome and introduce Representative Gail Chasey
3. Michelle Giger – MVFR member
5. Andrea Vigil – MVFR member
6. Representative Moe Maestas
7. Randy Steidl – exoneree
9. Cathy Ansheles - MVFR
11. Allen Sanchez – Catholic Bishops
12. Viki wrap up
PHOTOS: After the 3 crowd shots, we have Ray Krone and Holly Beaumont of the New Mexico Council of Churches. Next is Alexandria (wearing a button!), an assistance dog belonging to Bree Songer, a member of MVFR whose brother Jeffrey Songer was murdered in 1983. Next are MVFR-NM members Michelle Geiger, Andrea Vigil, and Cathy Ansheles. And finally, Kurt, Kim and Viki evaluate the
day.... Photos by Jane Davis and Abe Bonowitz.
I took the following images with my phone on Friday, February 6 at the New Mexico State Capitol, which incidentally is a very cool building with a fabulous display of all kinds of art - everywhere! This was a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, which ultimately passed the bill and sent it to the floor with an 8 to 5 vote. Monday is Lobby Day - visit the NM Repeal web site for details!
The posted schedule...
Following testimony of the bill sponsor Gail Chasey and murder victim family member Michelle Geiger, the chair asked for a show hands of those here in support of the bill. All but two DA's present raised their hands....
Head of the state League of Women Voters weighing in....
After extensive debate, the NM House Judiciary Committee just voted 8 to 5 to send the bill to abolish the death penalty to the house floor. Below photo is MVFR member Michelle Geiger immediately following the vote.
Dave Mass of SFReeper is live blogging the debate.
Monday, February 09, 2009
In what lawyers in the case say is a first-of-its-kind posthumous DNA exoneration, a judge in Travis County on Friday announced "to a 100 percent moral, factual and legal certainty" that Timothy Cole did not commit the 1985 Lubbock rape that sent him to prison, where he died in 1999. State District Judge Charlie Baird's announcement brought tears and exclamations of thanks from Cole's family. After court adjourned, Baird came down from the bench and embraced some of them.
"We had to come to Travis County, but we got justice," Cole's brother Cory Session said outside court.
Cole's family members joined their lawyers with the Innocence Project of Texas on Friday morning in calling on the Legislature to pass a bill that would standardize the way police conduct photographic lineups to eliminate any potential police bias. They say they blame Lubbock police for influencing Michele Mallin's incorrect identification of Cole as the man who raped her. Mallin joined Cole's family in petitioning Baird to clear Cole's name after she learned last year that another man had confessed to the crime and that DNA tests linked him to the case. A Lubbock court denied their request.
"The worst conclusion anyone can draw from the Timothy Cole case is this shows the court system works," said Jeff Blackburn , an Amarillo lawyer who is the chief Innocence Project lawyer in the case. "This shows our court system does not work."
During the hearing Friday, convicted rapist Jerry Johnson admitted that he raped Mallin in 1985.
"It's been on my heart to express my sincerest sorrow and regret and ask to be forgiven," said Johnson, who is serving life in prison for two other 1985 rapes in Lubbock County.
After Johnson spoke, Baird asked Mallin and Cole's mother, Ruby Session, whether they wanted to address him.
Mallin stood at a courtroom table and scolded Johnson.
"I love knowing that you are going to be spending the rest of your life in prison," Mallin said. "What you did to me is something you should never do to any woman in any time and any place. I am the one with the power right now, buddy."
Then Session, in sharp contrast to Mallin's remarks, spoke to Johnson calmly and slowly.
"Timothy, all he wanted was exoneration and full vindication," she said.
"I want you to know he was a fine young man. I miss his smile, I miss all the hugs and I miss those salutations in those letters I was getting from him. 'Just a few lines for my favorite young lady.' "
Cole, then a 26-year-old Texas Tech student, became a suspect in a string of rapes near the campus when he approached an undercover police officer who was hoping to draw the rapist on a sting. The women who had been raped, including Mallin, were abducted at knife point while leaving or entering their own vehicles. Cole approached the female officer in his own vehicle, flirted with her and gave his name. Mike Ware, a prosecutor in Dallas who testified about his review of the case, said that Cole never should have become a suspect.
Police took a color Polaroid picture of Cole and put it next to five black-and-white photos in a lineup. Mallin, who testified Thursday, said that she picked Cole and said "I think that's him." When she was told she had to be positive, she said she was, she recalled.
Iowa State University Professor Gary Wells , an expert in eyewitness identification, said that the difference in Cole's photo from the others and the comment about being positive encouraged Mallin's answer.
Senate Bill 117, sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, would require that an officer who administers a lineup not be familiar with the case and not know which lineup subject is the suspect. Under the bill, police would also have to record the event.
A handful of states have adopted similar standards.
Detective James Mason, an Austin police spokesman, said a case detective usually conducts lineups. He said there is no departmental policy on lineups, although it is understood that the detective should not display any bias.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
With support from Amnesty International--Houston / Local Group #23
And performance space offered by Rude Mechs and The Off Center
How can citizens lobby more effectively for abolition of the death penalty in Texas?
How can we hone our ability to dialogue with multiple audiences on the injustice of capital punishment, particularly when others disagree with us?
The Eye & Tooth Project is a Forum Theatre project that invites participants to explore the questions above- and other questions that arise in the process of working toward abolition. We'll also discuss how we can help build momentum for bills related to the death penalty introduced in the 2009 session of the Texas Legislature.
What is Forum Theatre? Forum Theatre is an interactive theatre form devised by Brazilian artist/activist Augusto Boal for people of all levels of theatre experience (or no theatre experience whatsoever). Facilitators set up a process through which workshop participants create a short play. At the end of the workshop process, participants perform that play for spectators. Audience members are invited to call out "Stop!" at any moment and to step into the action to devise new approaches to the issues at the heart of the play. Audience interventions serve as springboards for dynamic discussion.
We welcome participants with a variety of relationships to this issue, from victims' families to families of incarcerated persons or individuals on Death Row to lobbying groups and other interested citizens. In short, if you want to be there, we want you there!
Eye & Tooth-Austin has two phases:
Phase 1) An introductory/organizing workshop--THIS SUNDAY!
THIS Sunday, February 8th, 2009, from 1-5pm in Room 1.148 in the Winship Drama Building (at the NW corner of 23rd and San Jacinto at the University of Texas at Austin). We'll introduce some basics of Forum Theatre and discuss directions for the play we'll work together to create during the March 6-8 workshop.
Phase 2) Weekend workshop and Forum Theatre performance, March 7 & 8.
Workshop Times: Saturday, March 7, 2009 from 10 am to 7:00 pm (with lunch break) Sunday, March 8, 2009, from 12 noon to 6 pm (with snack break--we'll provide snacks!)Workshop Location: Room 2.180, Winship Drama Building
(on the NW corner of 23rd and San Jacinto at the University of Texas at Austin)
Public Forum Theatre showing and discussion: Sunday, March 8 at 7:30 pm Location: The Off Center @ 2211-A Hidalgo(Home of the Rude Mechs)
Email email@example.com to sign up for the workshop, so we can send any additional information as the workshop draws closer. Or if you can't do the workshop, just come join us for the public performance!
Facilitators: Kathleen Juhl (Southwestern University), Kelly Howe (UT-Austin), and John Sullivan (UT-Medical Branch).
Necessary skills or experience: None. All you need to bring is your willingness to discuss why you're invested in the issue of capital punishment. The facilitators will bring the rest.
Questions? Contact Kelly Howe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502.558.9745 or Kathleen Juhl at email@example.com.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Troy Davis’ case is one example of a major malfunction within the justice system in this country. We believe that every person deserves the right to a fair trial, and because of scenarios like this, we believe the death penalty should be abolished nationwide.
With stark moving images that illustrate the song’s lyrics, the Web video demonstrates, in bold-face, the disturbing realities of the case: no murder weapon, no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime and witnesses who recanted their testimony, alleging police coercion. Davis was convicted in 1991 of killing Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. Authorities failed to produce a murder weapon or physical evidence tying Davis to the crime. Seven of the nine original state witnesses have recanted or changed their initial testimonies in sworn affidavits. One of the remaining witnesses is alleged to be the actual perpetrator. Since the launch of its February 2007 report, Where Is the Justice for Me?, Amnesty International has campaigned intensively for a new evidentiary hearing or trial, as well as clemency for Davis, collecting hundreds of thousands of clemency petition signatures and letters from prominent individuals around the world. Davis’ case is now pending before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.